"We will conquer Rome, by
CAIRO (AP) — A video showing the mass beheading of Coptic Christian hostages was released Sunday by militants in Libya affiliated with the Islamic State group.
The killings raise the possibility that the Islamic militant group — which controls about a third of Syria and Iraq in a self-declared caliphate — has established a direct affiliate less than 500 miles (800 kilometers) from the southern tip of Italy. One of the militants in the video makes direct reference to that possibility, saying the group now plans to "conquer Rome."
The militants had been holding 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians hostage for weeks, all laborers rounded up from the city of Sirte in December and January. It was not clear from the video whether all 21 hostages were killed. It was one of the first such beheading videos from an Islamic State group affiliate to come from outside the group's core territory in Syria and Iraq.
The Egyptian government declared a seven-day mourning period and President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi addressed the nation late Sunday night, pledging resilience in the fight against terrorism.
"These cowardly actions will not undermine our determination" said el-Sissi, who also banned all travel to Libya by Egyptian citizens and said his government reserves the right to seek retaliation.
"Egypt and the whole world are in a fierce battle with extremist groups carrying extremist ideology and sharing the same goals."
The Coptic Church in a statement called on its followers to have "confidence that their great nation won't rest without retribution for the evil criminals."
The video's makers identified themselves as the Tripoli Province of the Islamic State group. A still photo, apparently taken from the video, was published last week in the Islamic State group's Dabiq online magazine — indicating a direct connection between the Libyan militants and the main group.
The video, released Sunday night, depicts several men in orange jumpsuits being led along a beach, each accompanied by a masked militant. The men are made to kneel and one militant, dressed differently that the others, addresses the camera in North American-accented English.
"All crusaders: safety for you will be only wishes, especially if you are fighting us all together. Therefore we will fight you all together," he said. "The sea you have hidden Sheikh Osama Bin Laden's body in, we swear to Allah we will mix it with your blood."
The men are then laid face-down and simultaneously beheaded.
The militant speaker then pointed northward across the red-stained waves and said, "We will conquer Rome, by Allah's permission."
In el-Aour, a dusty and impoverished village some 200 kilometers (125 miles) south of Cairo and home to 13 of the hostages, friends and family assumed the worst as soon as the photo was published on Thursday.
On Saturday, two days after the photo appeared, the community was wrapped in sorrow. Men covered their heads with dirt in a sign of both grief and shame. Women slapped their own faces or let out heart-wrenching shrieks of pain.
Villagers accused the Egyptian government of doing little to help the captives. The authorities, they say, were able to free Muslim Egyptians abducted in Libya in recent months but have done nothing to save the 21 because they are Christian — an accusation rooted in the deep sense of religious discrimination felt by most Egyptian Copts.
Samuel Walham's family immediately recognized him from the picture, showing him kneeling on the beach alongside four other hostages — each flanked by a knife-wielding militant.
"Look at my love. Look how beautiful he is," Walham's mother, Ibtassal Lami, said through tears as she cradled a photo of her son and women wailed in the family's ramshackle, two-story home. "He only went there to earn his living."
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